I hosted a coffee morning at my house yesterday morning and invited 4 clients who are breastfeeding and have low milk supply for one reason or another. And of course their four beautiful babies came along too. The reason I brought these mums together is that I felt they would benefit from sharing their experiences of breastfeeding with low milk supply and talking about their feelings, get support from each other, and feel less alone. And I think all of those boxes were ticked. It was such a lovely couple of hours, with loads of oxytocin in the air which hung about for hours after they left.
There were a few things that came up during the course of the get together that I feel are important to share.
The first, which all of the mums agreed on, was that they knew very little about combination feeding or supplementing before they started breastfeeding. And even when they were breastfeeding and having to supplement, they found it difficult to find information online. Their impression of breastfeeding in the antenatal period (from classes and reading online) was that it was all or nothing. If it worked it worked, and if it didn’t then you formula fed. None of them had considered the possibility that they might not make enough milk, and that if that was the case, it didn’t mean the end of breastfeeding. All of the mums that came yesterday have found a way to breastfeeding and supplement – two were giving extra milk at the breast using a supplementary nursing system and two were giving extra milk in bottles, all while continuing to feed their babies at the breast. Combination feeding ‘is a thing’ (as my kids would say) so perhaps we need to look at how we can better support these mums. And look at some of the key messages we put out there about breastfeeding – “exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months” is what women hear in the antenatal period. And the impression they are left with is that feeding is binary; breast or bottle, with nothing in between.
During the meet-up, all of the mums talked about their feelings about not being able to make enough milk for their babies, and breastfeeding not turning out as they had hoped and imagined it would. One of them talked about her grief for something she never had, and I think this resonated very strongly with everyone. They all felt a loss and a real sadness about having low milk supply. And in this safe space, the tears flowed. The other big feeling that came up for everyone was a sense that they somehow could have tried harder in those early days in the hospital to make breastfeeding work. And so we talked about how each one of them did they best they could with what they had, and the need to allow themselves to feel compassion for themselves and try to let go of the guilt.
One of the mums talked about how difficult the first few weeks of feeding were. She said there were times when she wished someone would just tell her to give up. But something inside her made her keep going. Feeding her baby wasn’t just about milk, it was more than that. She became attached to breastfeeding and was surprised herself just how much it mattered to her. It was hormones, a deep need and a maternal and primal instinct (all normal) that made her keep going. Because the thing is, for women who choose to breastfeed, it really matters to them.
We talked about support groups. Most said they would not attend a breastfeeding support group because they feel it would be hard for them to be surrounded by “perfect breastfeeding” and also because they would feel embarrassed feeding their babies formula in that environment. One mum said she avoided gatherings of breastfeeding friends because of the feelings it would bring up for her. However, one of the mums present attends her local HSE breastfeeding group (in Churchtown) and she said she was blown away by all the support she got. She said the PHNs and other mums there told her she was amazing for continuing to breastfeed and supplement using the tubes.
And they’re right. These mums are amazing. They have worked so hard to maintain breastfeeding and to make as much milk as they possibly can for their babies. And we need to support them. Every drop counts.
So. in summary:
*Women need more information about combination feeding.
*The grief around low milk supply is real.
*Many women with low milk supply avoid going to breastfeeding groups.
*Breastfeeding matters and it’s about so much more than the milk.
*Feeding with low milk supply is a constantly evolving process.